The Youth Arts Enterprise

AFH’s central program, the Youth Arts Enterprise, employs 250 Boston teens annually during their crucial out-of-school hours: Tuesday-Thursday from 3:00-6:00PM during the school year and Monday-Friday from 12:00-5:30PM during the summer. Following a paid apprenticeship model, AFH partners teens, with little or no experience, over a prolonged time period with professional artists and designers; 70% of youth participate for more than one year. Youth and art/design mentors collaborate on innovative projects – like animating a video for National Grid’s website, developing a workforce training video for Jobs for the Future and engineering bike racks for installation throughout the City – that promote active learning and advanced 21st Century Skills development in creativity, media, collaboration, technology, critical-thinking, problem-solving and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) concepts.

AFH offers youth this project-based learning in fully-equipped, staffed studios in Graphic Design/Motion Graphics, Painting/Murals, Photography, Screen-Printing, Sculpture/3D Design, Video and Web Design. AFH’s studios focus on developing youth creativity and innovation, and feature a small group structure of 7-12 young people working alongside a professional artist mentor, involving one-on-one tutelage. This individual attention enables the mentor to introduce new concepts, discuss the work’s direction, give constructive advice on techniques, and ensure that each participant is working to his/her potential. Remember: youth enter AFH with no previous experience; this hands-on approach builds skills and aptitude. Youth are further encouraged to self-direct by choosing subject matter, researching ideas/images, and exploring techniques of choice. Group critique strengthens communication and critical analysis.

Commissioned projects require apprentices to focus attention, listen carefully and craft a product that responds to client needs. Through this process, young people have positive and encouraging interactions with adults who value their work and appreciate their contributions. Teens participate in planning, product development and marketing of projects. Like any other job, they are expected to be punctual, treat the work seriously and function as team members. Unlike most jobs available to teens, young people are directly involved in client negotiations and meetings, giving them an important introduction to the professional world.

AFH further prepares teens for today’s global knowledge-based economy by ensuring they have access to computer literacy, digital media, STEM concepts and advanced technological training. Significantly, the combined experiences and skills gained at AFH are the same ones defined by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills as necessary for academic, career and life success (


Enhanced Educational Opportunities for Youth Employees

AFH offers rigorous academic support systems to steward youth toward high school and college graduation, toward an overarching goal of increasing future employability and earning potential.


  • High School Credit-Bearing Program – AFH is participating in Edvestors/BPS Arts Expansion’s pilot High School Credit Bearing Program, through which nine youth employees at under-performing schools are earning high school credits for the integrated arts education they receive while working in the Youth Arts Enterprise. AFH will provide intensive youth tracking and evaluation in addition to our rigorous project-based curriculum. This follows a month-long accredited arts course, which AFH offered to Prospect Hill Academy students in May 2013.
  • STEAM Power: Integrated Arts and STEM Learning – AFH mentors make explicit the STEM concepts embedded in current AFH design projects and practices to better connect youth with the STEM disciplines they are learning in school. We also coordinate special projects, requiring intensive youth study on specific STEM concepts and visual communication of these concepts through explanatory images, to increase the STEM career pipeline for under-represented youth. We installed a permanent exhibit of graphic portraits showcasing local African American leaders in STEM fields at the Edward L. Cooper Center in September 2013; and exhibited a series of works illustrating the mechanics of solar power at Logan Airport in December 2013. Curriculum and evaluative development are ongoing, with promising initial results.
  • Literacy Through the Arts – All teens craft and refine artist statements, reflection pieces, and descriptions of their use of math in art making. Teens receive ongoing help with writing and gain computer literacy through tutorials in online research and word processing, working in groups and one-on-one sessions with a full-time Education Coordinator.
  • After-Work Tutoring – (Tuesday-Thursday, 6:00-7:30pm) As needed, AFH provides teens with individualized, one-on-one tutoring to help them develop basic and advanced comprehension in core subjects, succeed in tests, and improve grades.
  • College Readiness – AFH helps youth develop individualized plans for post-secondary education, tour colleges, complete applications, and secure financing and scholarships. We help the majority of our teens secure scholarships and financial aid packages through a variety of opportunities and institutional partnerships.
  • College Retention – AFH links program alumni enrolled in post-secondary education with financial and human resources, and we provide them with ongoing employment opportunities and leadership training.


The indicators of success are compelling.

  • 100% of AFH’s high school seniors graduate; 95% on time (compared with the Boston Public School’s 65.9% rate of graduating students in four years).
  • 95% of AFH’s program graduates annually go on to post-secondary education or advanced vocational training; 66% successfully earn a college degree (compared with the national average – 46% – of college goers obtaining a degree).
  • A 2014 survey of AFH alumni found 89% of program alumni either actively enrolled in school or in productive careers.


Program Engagement

To ensure that all levels of participants have a meaningful interaction at AFH, we have organized the Youth Arts enterprise to reflect a real-world job-seeking environment. Apprentices pass through the following stages:

  • Open House – AFH hosts bi-weekly orientations at the AFH EpiCenter for interested youth. This hour long introduction provides youth with a powerful glimpse into our program along with the responsibilities and benefits of working here. They see peers at work, collaborating with adults and in positions of respect.
  • Orientation – When positions become available, AFH contacts all youth who have attended orientation, and brings them in for a formal overview of employment requirements at AFH. At this point, teens may sign up for an interview.
  • Application and Interview – Teens are asked to carefully consider their intentions and interest in the program, come in for a meeting and discuss these and other questions presented by a peer interviewer.
  • Youth in Training – Space provided, all interested youth are accepted into a 72-hour volunteer training program in painting. Upon completion, their performance is evaluated and they are hired as a Paid Apprentice. Artistic talent is not a pre-requisite for employment, as this can be developed and refined with practice.
  • Paid Apprenticeship – Once hired for employment, apprentices can opt to continue working in painting or, depending on availability, progress to another AFH studio.
  • Youth Leadership – Youth who have demonstrated significant commitment and have been involved in the Arts Micro-enterprise for at least two years may be selected to become Youth Leaders. They are given the opportunity to work on special projects and take on greater leadership roles, helping to interview, train, and acclimate new program participants. On average, 20% of participants are in the Youth Leadership program.


AFH Studios:

  • Painting – Painting introduces new apprentices to AFH and provides a solid foundation for all other artistic media, allowing youth to explore their identity and larger societal role in ways most have not previously experienced. Professional artist mentors teach youth the basics in drawing, painting, composition, design, and color theory. This training includes concepts such as drawing to scale, three-dimensional rendering on a two-dimensional surface, and the creation of perspective using vanishing points, building on the basic mathematics that teens learn in high school. Teens create work for exhibition, client commissions, and collaborative murals.
  • Mural Production – Working closely with clients, participants develop drawing and painting skills for public art, banners/advertising and large-scale painting projects. Using a blueprint, reading an architect’s scale ruler, and interpreting a designer’s drawing are some of the skills learned in order to transfer designs from paper to walls, backdrops, banners and other architectural settings.
  • Sculpture/Industrial Design – Participants have the opportunity to explore three-dimensional construction arts. Concepts are taken from sketch, to drawing, to model, to full execution. Participants are trained on computer-aided drafting programs and work hands-on conducting trials with materials to understand their properties and applicability to the project. Through demonstrations, innovation and experimentation, they learn to work with a variety of fine art and industrial tools and materials. AFH’s Sculpture/ID is renowned for fabricating unique bike-racks, outdoor signage, eco-friendly furniture and more – infusing the zest and unpredictability inherent in young people “making things.” Recently, Sculpture/Industrial Design released a line of creative and playful bike racks and developed several models and custom designs for ‘ReVision’, a line of sustainable furniture composed of junk-mail and magazines cast in an eco-friendly resin, and set on a steel structure. They have regular commissions for sale and exhibition of their contemporary art and design.
  • Photography – Apprentices learn fine art, documentary and commercial photography in both traditional and digital platforms. Through portraiture, product photography and computer-aided design projects, teens learn to market their own commercial services. Teens learn camera controls, create specialized lighting environments and backdrops, process black and white prints, create digital images for design clients, mount prints for exhibitions, collaborate on the Boston Globe Foundation’s Teens in Print web and print editions, train on the technical and artistic aspects of preparing photographs for the web, contribute all images to the website and larger digital graphic initiatives, and catalog AFH’s vast library of paintings.
  • Graphic Design – Apprentices learn the fundamentals of design, typography, layout, color systems, pre-press production for offset-, digital-, large format- and screen-printing, and new media/electronic imaging. They develop free-hand illustration skills and use the full range of software in the Adobe Suite. With these skills, they create expressive signage, graphic wallpaper/murals, logos, CD covers, graphics for apparel, brand identity, product labels, and book illustration. Apprentices work with supervising artists on custom design commissions for business clients and develop their own design trademarks.
  • Motion Graphics – Motion graphics are an integral part of video and graphic design today. Through this opportunity teens build on skills learned in graphics, and train on Adobe After-Effects to draw movies, add animation to live footage, design images and set them into motion. Motion Graphics offers clients of the Arts Micro-enterprise new options for their web and video needs.
  • Web Design – Advanced digital graphic apprentices train in web design and development. Web design speaks to both an audience that is actively seeking information and one that has happened upon a site by chance. It is necessary to offer multiple points of entry and master the logic behind technical functions and aesthetic options. Teens in web design work one-on-one with a mentor to navigate this multi-faceted creative media. Apprentice and mentor work together to meet client needs and maintain an ongoing, solution-based relationship.
  • Video – Teens train in scripting and storyboarding, camera work, sound engineering, graphic design, digital editing, web-readiness, and video production. Apprentices produce personal, documentary, and entrepreneurial pieces, and have tackled numerous projects for clients looking to capture an inherently youthful perspective through their video commissions. Shorts are available through the AFH website and our customized YouTube page (found at:


Additional AFH Programming

  • School Partnerships – AFH is in the third year of a Visual Arts Residency at the Oliver H. Perry K-8 School. An AFH alumnus/painting mentor leads weekly art projects for middle school students and engages them in creating public artworks to be installed in the school. We just initiated a similar residency at the Eliot K-8 Innovation School and have discussed possibilities with other Boston public, private and charter schools.
  • Inward Bound – Inward Bound is a team-building experience for groups of adult clients to work with trained teen artists. Adult participants leave with a finished art piece and a new understanding of urban teens. Significantly, Inward Bound offers a role reversal with teens as teachers.
  • Spiritus Solaris fuses art and science to increase public awareness of energy, conservation and environmental sustainability by highlighting the EpiCenter’s sustainable features and renewable technologies